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Crossman, BMH 2012, 'Leadership and followership within VET: some Australian and international perspectives', DBA thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright BMH Crossman 2012


Many within vocational education and training (VET) find themselves in both leading and following roles but research into Australian VET leadership is still in an emerging stage and as yet there appears to have been no discussion of followership in this important educational sector. Furthermore, vocational education now requires individuals to lead within an increasingly global context (Carter & Morgan 2002; Coates et al. 2010) so whilst this study is primarily aimed at Australian VET practitioners, policy makers and researchers, it could also be useful to the international community involved in vocational education.

This qualitative study employed a constructivist grounded theory methodology and semi- structured interviewing as a means to address the overall research objective: To generate a substantive leadership/followership theory for VET. The study also employed a new construct of theoretical congruence which formalizes the constant comparison of the data during analysis to other, often quantitative, studies. Such an explicit comparison or ‘mixed analysis’ can help bridge the issues that divide quantitative/qualitative approaches, be used for theoretical development, aid trustworthiness, and facilitate transferability to other contexts.

The literature review makes a contribution to knowledge by examining the quite different definitions of followership which does not appear to have been discussed in depth before. It also provides a second and updated literature review of followership by classifying the followership literature in three clusters: descriptive typologies of actual behaviours exhibited by followers; prescriptive typologies, the more idealised behaviours followers should have; and finally, situational factors of followership. The review also conducts what appears to be the first comparative review of leadership research between Australian VET, British further education (FE) and American community colleges to answer the research question: How does the Australian literature compare with its British and North American counterparts?

The data and their interpretation generated reformational leadership as a substantive theory for VET. Reformational leadership is a fusion of transactional and transformational leadership (Burns 1978) which acknowledges that leadership/followership is shared and collectivised occurring at all levels within VET organizations.

One of the aims of grounded theory is to uncover a core category and the data analysis in this study revealed uncertainty reduction as an underpinning motivation linking leaders and followers. Whilst no new motivational theory is offered, this study does provide some empirical evidence for Alderfer’s (1972) Existence: Relatedness: Growth theory which, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, has not received much empirical verification.

The study finally concludes with implications for leadership/followership training and recommends future VET research be focused on respect and managing uncertainty, two under researched areas in this key educational sector.